What is a Trade Mark?

Trade marks are the badges of origin for a company to distinguish them from other businesses. This guide from DeltaNet International explains what trade marks are, how they work, and the qualities to a trade mark.

Trade marks are the badges of origin for a company, they distinguish one trader from another. A trade mark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

By covering designs, words and phrases, trade marks protect a type of intellectual property. This can’t be confused with a copyright or a patent – patents cover inventions, and copyrights cover original artistic or literary work. They all cover intellectual property, but different types of intellectual property.

For example, if you invent a new type of vacuum cleaner:

  • A trade mark would protect the brand name
  • A patent would protect the invention itself
  • A copyright would cover the TV commercial to market the product

A reputable trader wants his products or services to have desirable and reliable qualities because it means that customers will come to regard the trade mark as a guarantee of quality.

How does it work?

First up you need to decide which types of goods or services you need to protect, have in mind future plans to ensure you protect all the areas your business might need.

You can find out if your trade mark is already taken by carrying out a search in the Business & Intellectual Property Centre, they have a database that is linked directly to the Intellectual Property Office.

Think about the geographical coverage you need. You can register a trade mark to protect you in the UK, throughout the European Union, Internationally or in individual countries.

Ensure your trade mark is used in the correct way or it could harm your company’s reputation because it is the mark that identifies your goods or service to consumers. Allowing your trade mark to become a generic name, like ‘aspirin’ or ‘escalator’ results in the loss of your trade mark – so be careful when you’re coming up with your name.

Qualities of a trade mark

Here is a list of qualities to a trade mark:

  • Used in commerce
  • Have fees paid as required to keep it in force
  • Must not become generic, such as a noun or verb in common usage
  • Must be identified as a trade mark by ® in some countries
  • A single word, logo, picture or a mixture of any of these

There are strict rules when it comes to trademarks:

  • A mark must not be descriptive, such as ‘sporty’ for sports clothing
  • A mark must not be deceptive, such as ‘silky’ for cotton goods
  • A mark cannot be a common surname or geographical name, like ‘Jones’ or ‘London’
  • A mark must not be confusable with any earlier registered mark – that is why the register is searched.

If you see someone infringing your trade mark, seek advice from a trade mark lawyer. Cases rarely end up in court, but that is the ultimate sanction of owning a trade mark. For a UK trade mark, fees are required every 10 years to keep a trademark in force.

The Register of Trade Marks is divided into 45 administrative classes of goods and services, trade marks are registered in one or more of 45 classes. There are 34 classes of goods and 11 for services. These classes group products that are deemed to be similar in function, and are identified by their number. For example, the registration of a trade mark for a range of gymnastic and sporting articles is classified by the trademark registry in class 28.

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